Thursday, 5 July 2007

Cyprus: sex, labour, exploitation, slavery

It was strange to experience and realise it, but it has been in Cyprus that I have been most frequently confronted by the continued exploitation-to-the-point-of-slavery of migrant workers for sex and manual labour.

This has been at the back of my mind for a long time now (since I very briefly and loosely sketched out 'some of the basic conflicts between Cypriot communities' human rights and human duties'), but I was once again reminded of it by Gary Younge's article in the Guardian on people 'working like slaves' in the UK, where there is still: intensive and extensive exploitation - 'modern-day slavery' - of debt bondage or the forced labour of migrant workers; sex slavery; trafficking of women and children for sex and labour in the UK, as well as its direct and indirect contributions to sex abuse and child labour throughout the world, without even beginning to consider the sometimes highly questionable practice of importing wives.

Through the Agence France-Presse (AFP) on the 26th of November 2003, Charlie Charalambous relayed Ombudsman Iliana Nicolaou concluded:
"The evidence of the investigation indicates that Cyprus over the past two decades is not only a country of destination but a transit point for women who are systematically channelled into prostitution"....

"The number of foreign women imported like perishable goods exceeds 1,000 every six months," said Nicolaou....

It is estimated that around 700,000 women and children are trafficked each year via international networks.
It is worth restating that point (in Charalambous's words, with my emphases): '[m]ore than 2,000 foreign women a year are exploited in Cyprus' flourishing sex trade industry before being quickly moved on to other European destinations'; so, even if they "work" for the duration of their visa and then leave Cyprus, it doesn't mean they're free and independent, or that they're choosing what work they do where, it means their Masters are transporting them to a new plantation.

Those numbers - more than 2,000 women a year (legally, publicly) 'imported like perishable goods', 'forced into prostitution by their employers and held against their will in many cases' - are "government" statistics, presumably just for southern Cyprus; according to the US Department of State's 2007 trafficking in persons report, about (another(?)) 1,000 "artiste" women are exploited in northern Cyprus, by people from throughout the island and, indeed, throughout the region (particularly with the complementary gambling opportunities).

The situation is even worse than the documented numbers suggest. On the 24th of March 2006 in the Cyprus Weekly, Demetra Molyva reported that:
It is estimated that about 5,000 foreign women come to the island every year on artistes visas or with permits to work as barmaids [who are also 'said to be involved in organised prostitution', which I can confirm from my experience of the "menu" offered to me in bars in both the North and the South].

There are also hundreds who work illegally as prostitutes after entering on tourist visas.
The US Department of State's 2007 trafficking in persons report found,
women trafficked from countries in Eastern and Central Europe, including Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, and Russia [and from the Philippines, the People's Republic of China, and Morocco], for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation.... Traffickers continued to recruit victims under fraudulent terms for work as dancers in nightclubs with three-month "artiste" category employment permits and more limited numbers of foreign women for work in pubs under the "barmaid" employment category.... [S]ome Chinese women on student visas... may have been forced into prostitution.
The official island-wide population was about 802,000 people (although it is larger, as the population of northern Cyprus is disputed and some communities may have been excluded from the statistics); if we took each side's own estimate for its own population (640,000 in the South, 200,000 in the North), it would have been around 840,000 (in 1998).

In 2005, southern Cyprus's President Tassos Papadopoulos talked of an island-wide population of 'one million', including its historic minorities and recent settler communities. If we took that total, but assumed the lowest official number of around 2,000 legally imported "artistes", women trafficked for sex alone might constitute at least 0.2% of the total population, 1 in every 500 people on the island; if the North's 1,000 were in addition to (the South's) 2,000, that would make them 0.3% of the population, 1 in every 333 people; but Molyva's estimate of 5,000 makes them 0.5% of the population, 1 in every 200.

The European Network Against Racism relayed that:
The number of documented migrant workers reached 70,000 (10% of the population).... [but that t]he migration model of "temporary" employment linked to a specific employer has created conditions of dependency on employers, since it places migrants in a vulnerable position when faced with exploitation and renders them powerless in claiming their rights [and that, on top of that, t]he strict migration policies did not prevent the increase of 'illegal' [economic] migration....

Migrants in general are victims of institutional racism, stereotyping and stigmatisation and are used as scapegoats for many social and economic problems....

Domestic workers are particularly vulnerable, their employment contracts are frequently violated and they fall victim of abuse, sexual harassment, rape and violence. Even worse treatment is inflicted on female workers - victims of trafficking, and those involved in prostitution. Seasonal workers have no social insurance, live on farms in inhumane conditions and are often deported without getting paid. The system of migration forces many migrants to become "illegal", deprived of all basic rights.
In 2000, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance judged the 'vulnerable situation of immigrants in Cyprus' an issue of 'particular concern', 'merit[ing] particular and urgent attention', within which, 'a particularly vulnerable group appears to be constituted by domestic workers'.

Reports suggest that:
the terms of contract of these workers are often breached by employers, who may for instance force the women to work much longer hours or during their days off, assign them to duties not provided for by the contract, or dismiss them in an unjustified manner. There have also been reports of inhuman treatment and sexual harassment of these women.... [T]he remedies available have
so far not proved to be sufficiently effective....

In addition, domestic workers are reluctant to complain as this may result in deportation by the Immigration authorities, since their right to reside in the country is strictly connected with employment with a specific employer. ECRI urges the authorities to ensure that deportation is not carried out before thorough and fair proceedings in each case have taken place. It also urges the authorities to ensure that means of subsistence – including new employment -- are available for domestic workers whose contractual or other rights may have been violated by their employer....

ECRI also expresses serious concern at reports of use of excessive force by the police against aliens who enter or stay in Cyprus illegally.... notes that the people detained under immigration powers awaiting deportation do not even enjoy the legal safeguards applicable to detention generally
The US Department of State's 2005 human rights report still heard that '[l]egal and illegal migrant workers were subject to the nonpayment of wages, reduced payment of wages, beatings, and the threat of deportation'.

Even 'legal foreign workers in general were paid below the minimum wage.... worked irregular hours and at times reportedly were required by their employers to work up to 14 hours per day, 7 days a week'.

workers who filed complaints did not receive satisfactory legal protection and could face dismissal.... did not have the legal right to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without endangering their continued employment.
The US Department of State's 2007 trafficking in persons report found,
female domestic workers from India, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines forced to work excessively long hours and denied proper compensation and possibly subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude.... women who do not cooperate with authorities may be deported with no legal alternatives to removal to countries where they may face hardship or retribution.
I don't yet know how to respond to this situation, how to work in or with it, but I know I must be aware and wish to raise awareness of it, as, even when archaeologists do consider the ethics of working in certain places, they overwhelmingly attend to a very limited set of factors, normally dictatorship and occupation and, if Indigenous peoples' or perhaps other disadvantaged communities' cultural heritage is being studied, the participation of those communities in that particular project.

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